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Roguelike Caves of Qud: Developer Interview and Steam Early Access Release

Caves of Qud is a roguelike, but it’s not as easy to define as other titles filling the genre today. We have an interview with the developers to help describe just what this game is all about. And I think it would be doing the game a disservice if I didn’t expand on it myself.

It’s amazingly lush, robust and deeply immersive with story bleeding out of every enemy and NPC in the game – because they all are as fully simulated as the player. Talk to them, listen to their story, kill them with fire or take control of their body and run around doing whatever it is lizardmen do . You will feel the weight of the world through the history of, well, just about everything that’s in the game permeates with a notable and tattered past.

It’s visually minimalistic and retro, triggering flashbacks of staring at old CRT screens, but the developers at Freehold Games have crammed in a procedurally generated world with static content that supplies a linear narrative you aren’t bound to. The flavor-text conjures up imagery akin to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Gamma World and other stories that refused to be reeled-in with sensibilities. Sure. It’s a roguelike. Go kill lots of things and die a lot along the way. But there’s also simulated political and physical systems. The game world has heft.

An intriguing aspect of Caves of Qud is that I could choose to play as a near-sighted Mutant with a beak and the ability to open up a vortex that will suck nearby enemies into it. And then, I could just sit around all day talking to sentient plants. Or, I could embark on an epic quest to take down a sentient bear who’s leading a revolution of tinkers to return technology to the world. I could return again and again as an amazing array of different characters.

ss_a440e44867c93684d124888d23e8377a6beaff09.1920x1080Explore an immense procedurally generated world highlighted by static locales and quests with a daunting array of character-creation possibilities that alone begs you to replay the game. It’s a game that I personally stumbled upon and bought because of its artistic, and wildly creative, focus on story. But I have a feeling the amount of abilities, skills, weapons and other items in the game will have me pushing through the main story or discovering what it’s like to take over the mind of a spider and crawl around Qud all day.

Interview

ZF: Caves of Qud is your second game (after Sproggiwood) that’s also turn-based?

FG: That’s right, although technically Caves of Qud came first. Whereas Sproggiwood is a distillation of all the things we like about turn-based, roguelike gameplay, with a focus on minimalism -Caves of Qud jams everything into the player’s bucket. Quddius Maximus: Do It All.

ZF: Caves of Qud looks very different aesthetically than Sproggiwood. I’ve read some Steam reviews that mention this latest iteration of Caves is a refined version of an older game you’ve worked on for quite awhile?

FG: Yep. We’ve been working on Caves of Qud for nearly 10 years. The all ASCII, beta version was released for free in December 2010. For the last couple years, we’ve been focused on the development of Sproggiwood, but when Valve gave us the opportunity to launch Caves of Qud on steam, we jumped at it. The Steam Early Access release includes Linux and Mac OS X support, a bunch of gameplay updates, and gorgeous new tile art by amateur artist Sam Wilson.

ZF: Caves of Qud is listed on Steam as Early Access. How much do you plan on continuing to change the graphics and/or gameplay until your satisfied for a full launch?

FG: We plan on continuing to produce tiles in the same style and then give some of the old ASCII graphical effects a revamp. The UI may get a rework, too. As for gameplay, they’ll be lots of updates. Most of the core systems are in place, but we want to tweak them and add more monsters, items, NPCs, quests, and lore. And resolve the main plot: that’s our #1 priority.

ZF: This feels like a roguelike to me flavored with some Dwarf Fortress and an old RPG called Gamma World. Did you have any specific inspiration(s) that went into the look and feel or story?

FG: Gamma World and Dwarf Fortress were certainly big inspirations. Just to name a few others: Dune, The Book of the New Sun, A Canticle for Leibowitz, the works of Ursula K. Le Guin, Star Control II, and Morrowind. As for the look and feel, remember that 70s sci-fi novel you left in the backseat of your brother’s Camaro? We found it.

ZF: You say the game is a deep simulation and you “… weaved a rich, exotic, and well-researched culture around deeply simulated physical and political systems….” How could someone who’s not necessarily a fan of roguelikes go about enjoying their time in game?

FG: Like you say, we invested heavily in worldbuilding. I really want you to inhabit an exotic world. This is something most roguelike developers don’t invest in, which is fine, since it’s not really the form’s mission. It’s our mission, though. We’ve had great feedback from players who say they’ve convinced their pen & paper RPG-playing friends, who don’t play many computer games, to buy Caves of Qud for this reason.

ZF: Parts of the game are procedurally generated, but other areas and elements like quests are the same every playthrough. Can you explain how this works?

FG: The world map is static: the salt flats are always on the western edge of the map, the same river splits the jungles of Qud in half, etc. But when you delve into a specific region, the maps are procedurally generated. In one game the salt flats might be populated with desert nomads, in another, flaming lizards.

The layout and population of cities are also static (for the most part), as is the main plot. This is how we weaved a real thematic thread into an otherwise chaotic, procedural world. The hand-crafted content adds a dimension of narrative authenticity, while the procedural content adds the authenticity of real-world diversity. The result: a delicious, multi-dimensional, open-world pie for you to eat.

ZF: Character creation immediately intrigued me. How many different characters could potentially be created?

FG: All the characters. All of them. I don’t know if there’s another game that can boast as much character diversity. It’s one of the core conceits of Qud: if you can imagine a character, you can create and play it.

ZF: So what’s the main draw? – the meat-and-potatoes of the game? Why am I going to want to sit down and gleefully keep replaying?

FG: It depends on the type of player you are. If you love brutally challenging, traditional roguelike gameplay, Caves of Qud is for you. If you love rich, lore-driven worlds, Caves of Qud is for you. If you want to wield a pickax in each of your four arms and solve a problem in your own way, Caves of Qud is for you. If you just want to talk to some sentient plants, well, Caves
of Qud is definitely for you.

ZF: Can I tease any upcoming surprises for the game out of you? Or any upcoming new projects?

FG: As far as Qud: an infinite library of procedural books, calendar-based festivals, and a fungal jungle. As for other projects, we’ll be busy for Qud for a while, but we are brewing something that’ll take us to… outer space.

ZF: Thanks you very much for taking the time to answer our questions!

Caves of Qud is available in Early Access on Steam for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.

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Jeremy Stratton

Jeremy Stratton

Jeremy's lived long enough to see his favorite games making a comeback in High Definition and Indie games with old-school ideals. He also loves cooking and photography.